Nuac cham or Nước chấm sauce is a must try if you like a balanced blend of flavors! No flavor overpowers but it hits your palate with salty, tangy, sweet, hot, bitter and some rich umami notes.
How is nuoc cham used?
The simple basic nuoc cham typically consists of water, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. This version has the classic Vietnamese flavors but some popular additions are a few slices of Thai chillies for heat and minced garlic. Most restaurants will offer a small bowl of nuoc cham for dipping Vietnamese fried spring rolls like cha gio (Chả Giò aka Nem Rán) pictured above. Noodle bowls are super popular in Vietnamese cuisine. These typically consist of rice vermicelli noodles (bún tươi), vegetables, greens and a protein like pork or shrimp. The nuoc cham will be served on the side to pour over as a dressing. Two of my favorite Vietnamese noodle dishes are bun cha (grilled pork meatballs) and bun thit nuong (grilled pork slices).
Some dishes need a saltier sauce and others need a bit less salt when making nuoc cham. The same ingredients and flavors are present but having a salty sauce for fried spring rolls needs a bit more salt to pair with the fatty flavors. I like to use equal amounts of fish sauce and water and it will give a nice salty flavor to your spring rolls. When making noodle bowls and using nuoc cham as a dressing, I like to use the standard recipe below.
Notes on ingredients:
- Fish Sauce: You can find this at most Asian markets or on Amazon. I like the Three Crabs fish sauce, it comes in a 24oz bottle so it will last a long time.
- Lime juice: Only use fresh squeezed and never the stuff from the bottle. You want that pop of fresh citrus in your nuoc cham.
- Sugar: I like to use granulated sugar but feel free to experiment with brown sugar and palm sugar for some added flavor.
- Chilis: I like the heat in Thai chilis but if you can't find them try some Serrano peppers or even red pepper flakes that are sold in many stores. Adjust the amount to your preferred heat level or leave them out of the batch and allow others to add them in when you serve.
Step by Step Photos
- Step 1: Heat the water in the microwave until is is just warm and add the sugar. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Note that when making nuoc cham for spring rolls use equal amounts of fish sauce to water, so 2 tablespoons water, otherwise for noodle dressing use 5 tablespoons of water.
- Step 2: Add the lime juice.
- Step 3: Add the fish sauce.
- Step 4: Optionally add the garlic and Thai chilis.
Frequently Asked Questions
The sauce will keep nicely for 1 week. The stored sauce will loose that fresh citrus kick after a couple days but it is safe to eat. If you want to store it even longer leave out the lime juice and add it just before using to taste.
It is usually very close. Many restaurants will use just vinegar for the acid since it costs so much less than fresh squeezed limes.
Other popular Vietnamese recipes
- Pho Tron: A beef salad served with greens, bean sprouts, peanuts and rice noodles.
- Bo Sot Vang: Hearty beef stew made with red wine, carrots, star anise and tomato.
- Thit Kho Tau: Coconut braised pork served with rice and hard boiled eggs.
- Cà phê trứng: Egg coffee is a Hanoi favorite where egg yolks are whipped with sweetened condensed milk into a frothy meringue and drizzled over espresso.
- Cá sốt cà chua: Fish simmered in tomatoes, shallots and topped with dill.
- Sweet and Sour Mango Salad: Fresh mangos with shallots, cilantro and peanuts with nuoc cham dressing.
Nuoc Cham - Vietnamese Dipping Sauce/Dressing
- Heat the water in the microwave until warm.
- Add the sugar to the warm water and stir until dissolved.
- Add the lime juice fish sauce and optionally the Thai chilis and garlic.
- Stir to combine.